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Cosmetic Surgery

August 11, 2011 | by

What does the Torah say about nose jobs – both from a legal and philosophic point of view? Are they permitted, or is this considered tampering with Creation?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

First things first: In Jewish consciousness, we are not the “owners” of our bodies, and therefore one is not allowed to cause any wound to himself (Code of Jewish Law – C.M. 420:31). However, a cosmetic procedure is constructive and not destructive (i.e. the intent is to heal, not to harm), this does not violate the prohibition against wounding oneself.

“Constructive” here is defined as repairing an obvious defect. However, if done for erotic or overly vain reasons, it is forbidden. (Igrot Moshe – E.H. 4:66)

Regarding the philosophical aspects, there are different ways to look at things. One way is to accept a large nose as being part of a person's personal challenge. Learning how to live it with can help a person build self-esteem in a way that promotes internal growth and strength.

On the other hand, a person is entitled to use the means God has given him to make his stay on earth more pleasant. If one’s nose is causing considerable distress, then an operation may be in order. Some “good reasons” to get cosmetic surgery are: an inability to earn living, difficulty getting married, or causing serious marital strife. In the words of the Sages, if the emotional pain is so great that one is embarrassed to be seen in public, "there is no pain greater than this." (Talmud – Shabbat 50b, Tosfot)

Bad reasons for getting cosmetic surgery are: It’s the fashionable thing to do, or it’s my boyfriend's personal preference. I am reminded of the man with big ears who came and asked the doctor to surgically pin them closer to his head. “Why do you want that?” asked the doctor. “So that my children won't inherit this feature,” the man replied.

As for the philosophical question of "changing one’s destiny," and tampering with the Divinely-ordained package that God gave you, that presents no problem in Jewish thought. After all, would you stay sick or poor because God put you into such a situation?! Of course not. Perfecting the world is our job. We see this from the mitzvah of Bris Milah: God created the human body with a slight imperfection which requires our involvement to bring it to “perfection.” In this way, we are partners with the Almighty in repairing and perfecting the world, and that message should carry over into all our endeavors.

I would like to end with a true story that I heard about an Orthodox Jewish family. Their boy was born premature, and due to complications he spent the first few months in the hospital. The doctors concluded that he would always remain especially short. At age 10, a new, untested growth hormone became available, and the boy’s parents took him to a leading endocrinologist for advice. The doctor, who was not Jewish, told them as follows: “Normally I would advise to go ahead, even though the drug is experimental. But that’s because I live in the wealthy area of Scarsdale, where one’s self-esteem depends so heavily on external appearance. But your Jewish community places more emphasis on wisdom and character. So in your case, it’s not worth the risk.”

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